The Bible Says…

– November 2011

The Bible Says . . .

When my boys were very small I would often give them their “Saturday night bath.”  This weekly ritual involved a long warm soak, a robust scrubbing and a vigorous shampoo – leaving them squeaky clean.  The boys loved the playful soak, tolerated the scrubbing, but became quite agitated when I would reach for the shampoo.  It may have had something to do with the fact that I used such copious amounts that rinsing it out of their hair became an experience close to drowning. One Saturday night all was going well until I reach for the bottle of shampoo.  My older son, who obviously had had enough, stood up in the front of the tub pointed his finger at me and with evangelistic fervor shouted, “The Bible says, ‘Thou shalt not wash a little boy’s hair with shampoo’!”  My son had a remarkable grasp of the authority of scripture, yet at the tender age of three he had not yet acquired an exact understanding of how to use it – or more accurately how not to use it for his own designs and purposes.

A less—than—careful use scripture is a slippery slope for both men and movements.  Most religious traditions, including our own Conservative Holiness Movement, have not escaped this pitfall.  As the Aldersgate Forum’s Call to Biblical Fidelity states, “we have often focused on issues and made demands which we cannot legitimately establish from the Scriptures. As a result, trivial notions and speculations at times have marred our witness”.  The CHM has, for the most part, comprised a group of people who have placed a very high value on scripture.  Our willingness to live out many unpopular biblical values is a testimony to this.  However, we have not always had an equally high commitment to the careful exegesis of scripture which is crucial to preserving Biblical fidelity.

Webster has defined fidelity as “the quality of being faithful; of accuracy in detail; exactness.”  The dictionary adds an interesting modern analogy to explain fidelity: “the degree to which an electronic device (as a record player or radio) accurately reproduces the original sound.”  With this in mind we can define Biblical fidelity.

Biblical fidelity then is to reproduce faithfully and accurately the thoughts, meaning and intent of scripture in both our preaching and practice.

                Every tradition, including the CHM, works in a sub-culture of its own. These subcultures gravitate toward certain theological, cultural and religious biases that inevitably serve as lens through which scripture is viewed and applied to Christian living. For the most part this is healthy and normative.  It is not, however, without problems. For all Biblical and theological biases must be held in check by an unyielding commitment to be both honest and faithful to the Biblical text. If this does not happen Biblical fidelity is compromised or even lost.

Are there any particular ways the CHM needs to be more careful?  Yes. Let me offer a few that I believe are especially applicable to the CHM.

  1. The CHM must be careful not to practice eisegesis instead of exegesis.  Eisegesis is an interpretation of scripture that expresses the interpreter’s own views rather than the text’s true meaning (exegesis). When we impose our own theological, cultural or personal views on a text, despite knowing that faithful scholarship will not support our interpretation, we compromise the truth and fail to honor God’s word. The CHM must regularly remind itself that scripture is the standard by which we test all other truth claims, not the other way around.
  2. The CHM must be careful not to blur the line between Biblical principle and religious tradition.  Tradition is a valuable part of our Christian life. Traditions may certainly be taught in our homes and churches, but they should be taught as traditions, not as divine revelation. Traditions must never be confused with God-given commands or given the same authority and weight as scripture.  When this confusion occurs the end result can be a church that has replaced the authority of God’s Word with the deadening weight of traditionalism or, worse, just trivia.
  3. The CHM must be careful not to misinterpret “questions” as “questioning” and inadvertently discourage honesty!   It is impossible to respect the God’s Word too highly, but it is possible to respect it wrongly.   We must let people know that it is not irreverent to see difficulties in the Biblical text and allow them to think hard and honestly about how these difficulties can be resolved. You have not truly studied the Bible until you have asked hard questions of it.   However, in some people’s minds asking hard questions is the same as “posing problems,” and we have been discouraged all our lives from finding problems in the Bible. Let me assure you, the Bible can handle scrutiny. Honesty is a vital part of Biblical fidelity.  God would rather have honest disagreement from one committed to His Word than forced affirmation of something we don’t really believe or understand.
  4. The CHM must be careful not to allow the externalization of Biblical standards to substitute for the internalization of Biblical character.   The Bible was not written to be a curiosity shop from which we pick and choose certain things to obey in our lives like one might pick and choose an article of clothing.  Rather, it was written to transform us from the inside out!  One can know and honor the Bible in visible ways (especially those that make us look spiritual in our setting), yet fail to demonstrate the character it commands. One can be meticulous, even legalistic, about his tithe and yet fail ever to develop the spirit of generosity. One can dress modestly and still have a sensuous  spirit. Sheer knowledge of the Bible doesn’t make one godly.  The mere application of a few visible commands doesn’t mean we have cultivated holy character.   One can read the Bible daily, acquire significant amounts of Biblical knowledge, adopt standards of dress and behavior– yet have no straight-line correspondence between that and real Christlikeness.

It would be helpful for all of us to remember that the “sounds” our lives make on earth reach heaven either as the scratchy, tinny, garbled clanging of carnality, or as harmonic, melodious, pleasant reproductions of Christlikeness.  Our success at being like Jesus will be determined by not only knowing with a high degree of accuracy what the Bible says, but also by honestly living it out.

Educating the Body

–March of 2007

Educating the Body

Eva Sutton is a ninety-two-year-old resident of a nursing home.  Her days are lived in the shadowy world of dementia.  She has a number of children and grandchildren, but if you mention them to her she will talk of another era.  She rattles on about her mother and father as if they were alive and she was still a child.   Eva was an active part of her church and its organist for over forty years.   So on most days, she will sit at the piano in the foyer of the nursing home doing what she loves the most—playing the old hymns. The hymns that she played for decades are now lodged in her bones and are released through age-bent fingers with what appears to be little effort.

Eva Sutton reminds us that the body learns – that it can be educated.  That it can be deeply and resiliently marked by that education.  Her fingers and tongue and lips remember the old hymns, even when her broken mind doesn’t.

The athlete calls this “muscle memory.”  One practices movements over and over again until one can do them without thought or any mental awareness of what is happening.  We ride our bikes, milk a cow, swim, make our beds, play basketball and do a host of other things without ever thinking about or analyzing the movements we make.  Our body knows what to do, and it just does it.

The Apostle Paul understood this and admonished us to “…exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (I Timothy 4:7-8).  He understood that spiritual formation involves the whole person, not just the spiritual part of us but the physical body as well.  Actually, the body lies right at the center of the spiritual life and is a chief ally in the formation of Christlikeness.  Paul again makes this clear in a question to the Corinthians: “Are you unaware that your body is a temple to the Holy Spirit from God, Who is within you?  And that you are not your own property?  A price has been paid for you.  So make your body a showplace of God’s greatness” (I Cor. 6:19-20, paraphrase).  This truth is quite a shock for many 21st century Christians who disconnect the mind and heart from the body in their spiritual walk.  For those who “walk in the flesh,” the body may well be the primary barrier to conformity to Christ.  But that is not because it has to be that way.  The body is not some uncontrollable mass that carries our head around.  It is not inherently evil, or the cause of evil.  The body, when presented to God, can be a servant unto righteousness — in fact, it must be.  The proper training, enculturation, and disciplining of the body is absolutely essential to spiritual formation.

Actually it’s the body that often learns first and can retain that learning long after the mind is gone.  We teach our children to speak words of appreciation long before they understand true gratitude, for we know that trained, repeated responses of thankfulness can in the long run create an attitude of gratitude that can mark them for life.  We instruct them in the posture and words of daily prayer years before they understand its real value because we want them to develop the habit of daily prayer.  We repeat this process with acts of mercy, deeds of kindness, and respect for authority and age.  We are “training up the child in the way he should go: so that when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

For those who need help in this area, there are some practical steps you can follow to bring the body under the control of the Spirit.

  1. Surrender your body totally to God.  (Romans 12:1.)  This must be decisive and complete.  You must then understand that the body is no longer your own to do with as you please.
  2. Refuse to make the body your ultimate concern. (Matthew 6:25-34.)  Contemporary culture idolizes the body.  We are overly concerned with food, fashion, fitness, longevity, sickness, and death.  We can become far more concerned about the body’s wellness and care than we can about its usefulness to God.   The body is not a god to worship.  I recently went on an extended fast just to let my belly know I was still boss and that feeding it was not the ultimate concern in my life.
  3. Stop misusing the body.  (I Corinthians 6:12-17.)   Stop using the body to speak the language of this present world.  Christians do not dress to look sexy or any other way that misuses the body by accentuating its sensuality. They do not need a “power tie” or any other clothes that tend to elevate them above others or possibly intimidate others.  We do not misuse the body by lacking sleep, being a workaholic, or eating too much or the wrong things.  The body doesn’t have to have a steak, sex, or Sony’s latest Play Station when it wants it.  Food is our servant, and we are not its slave.  Sex is for the mutual benefit of a husband and wife in the context of a marriage relationship.  Recreation is my servant, kept within the bounds of wise stewardship.
  4. Honor and care for the body as God’s Temple. (I Corinthians 6:19-20.)  The body should be nourished, cared for, rested, and adorned so that we may glorify God in our bodies.
  5. Train the body in godliness and grace. (I Timothy 4:7-8.)  Writers on spiritual formation have listed around twelve spiritual disciplines that have been used through the ages to cultivate Christlikeness and to keep the body as a servant to righteousness.  Make the practice of some of them or all of them a part of your spiritual exercise routine.

Coy McGinnis has been a preacher of the gospel for over fifty years, much of that time spent in evangelism.  He recently passed away after battling cancer for several years.  Toward the end, there were times when his mind was not clear from the sickness and the medicine.  On one such occasion in the middle of the night, while still asleep, he cleared his throat, announced his text, quoted it, and then preached a complete sermon from John 1:29.  When he finished the sermon, he stretched out his arms and pled for souls to come to Christ.  He was never aware of any of this.  Preaching has so marked his life that he could literally do it in his sleep.

The body can be deeply marked and thoroughly educated.  If you don’t think so, don’t try to convince Eva Sutton or Rev. McGinnis – they know better.